Monday, 26 October 2009

Advanced Brand Strategy - Taking a Page from Organized Religion

Want to build a brand that stands the test of time?  Take a page from organized religion. Notable brands and religions have a lot more in common then you’d think.  Both share:

A Sense of Belonging
Psychologically, ‘sense of community’ is one of the major tenants of self-definition. Belonging to a group can involve language, dress, and/or ritual.  To be part of the group gives meaning and association with a larger group provides emotional safety and a sense of belonging and identification.   The influence is bi-directional.  Think: Nike, Apple, or Harley-Davidson Ownership; the individual shares mission with the larger group.

A Clear Vision
Both Religions and Brands are unambiguous in mission and intent (to reach heaven, achieve spiritual enlightenment.)  Like religions, successful companies and successful brands have a clear, and very powerful sense of mission.   Think: Apple’s Steve Job’s statement in the mid-1980’s, “Man is the creator of change in this world.”  

Power Over Enemies
Successful religions strive to exert power over their enemies (and have so since the beginning of time.)  Taking sides against the “other” is a potent uniting force psychologically.  Even more so if there is an identifiable enemy, as it gives us the chance to not only showcase and articulate our faith, but also to unite ourselves with our fellow believers.  A community united by a common enemy.  Think: Coke vs. Pepsi, Apple vs. PC, Us vs. Them.

Sensory Appeal
All great religions, (whether church, temple, or mosque) have unique sensory appeal.  The air, the incense, the smell of the wood, the ornate stained glass, and the sound of the organ or bell.  All integral parts of the otherworldly experience.  Whether annoyance or longing, sensory qualities evoke an emotional response.  Think: “Hello Moto” or Intel’s Sound Branding.  Maybe the smell of a new Mercedes, or the sleek, aesthetically pleasing lines of the iPod. 

Whether New Testament, Torah, or Koran---EVERY major religion is built upon a heft of history and stories (mostly gruesome and miraculous.) Most notably, the rituals (i.e. praying, kneeling, meditation, fasting, singing hymns, receiving the sacrament, etc.) are rooted in these stories (and therefore are repeatedly and unconsciously reinforced.)

Most religions celebrate a sense of grandeur and awe.  This ensures that one comes away from the experience as mere mortals dwarfed by something far greater than ourselves.    Even today, no building in Rome is permitted to be higher than St. Peter’s Cathedral.   At the Temple of the Golden Buddha in Bangkok is a nearly eleven foot tall, two-and-a-half ton Buddha made from solid gold (and valued at close to $200 million.)  Think: The Bellagio Hotel, Louis Vuitton’s flagship store in Paris, Apple’s store in NYC, Google’s offices.  All created their own Vatican and stir up notions of grandeur.

The cross.  A dove.  An angel, or crown of thorns.  Organized religion is full of iconography and symbolism that act as an instant global language, or shorthand.  This is also true of products and brands.  A brand or product  (symbol) logo can evoke powerful associations, just like religious icons.  Think:  Lance Armstrong (Nike) “Live Strong” bracelets.  Originally given away for free, once they became a symbol of challenging adversity and charitable giving---Armstrong’s Foundation ended up selling some $70 million worth (and inspired a slew of copycats.)

In religion, (where the unknown can be as powerful as the known,) mystery is a powerful force.   Think of the mysteries of the Bible, the Shroud of Turin, the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, or the da Vinci code.  When it comes to brands, mystery is equally effective.  Think: Coca-Cola’s or KFC’s secret formula. A mischievous Unilever employee in Asia added the sentence “Contains X9 Factor” to a shampoo bottle label.  This last minute addition went undetected by Unilever, and soon millions of bottles were shipped out.   As it would be too costly to recall, Unilever let it be.   Six months later, Unilever reprinted the label without the reference to containing “X9 Factor.”  To there surprise sales dropped dramatically and they received a slew of outraged mail from customers.  None even knew what “X9 Factor” was, but were offended that Unilever would dare consider getting rid of it.  In fact, many customers claimed the shampoo wasn’t working anymore, and that there hair had lost its luster.  It just goes to show that the more mystery and intrigue a brand can cultivate, the more likely it will appeal to us.

When life feels uncertain and out-of-control, we often seek out the comfort of that which is familiar. Ritualistic patterns make us feel consistent, stable, safe, and grounded. Whether most of us are aware of it or not, we don’t want to tamper with the region of our brain that makes up our “implicit” memory (which encompasses everything you know how to do without thinking about it---from riding a bike to tying your shoelaces.)   Product rituals give us the illusion of comfort and belonging, while also helping us differentiate one brand from another.   Once we find a product or brand experience we like, it’s human nature to make it a ritual.   Savvy marketers find and exploit the rituals associated with their brands. Products and brands that have rituals associated with them are much ‘stickier’ than those that don’t.  Think: The many ways to eat an Oreo cookie, Lime in the Corona, or the Starbuck’s ordering process.  It’s clear that people ritualize positive experiences and keep coming back for more.  

How many of these are incorporated into your brand?  

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Goodbuzz Inc. is a Digital Ad Agency that creates social media campaigns that entice consumers to play, create, and share brand experiences. Note: Any / all product names mentioned in this document may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies and are hereby acknowledged.